The idea that newspapers and television present a distorted picture of reality is the stuff of conspiracy theories. It is also true. Or rather, newspapers and television presented a filtered version of reality. One level of filtering is at the level of ‘Dog bites man is not news. Man bites dog is news’. An earthquake which devastates a city is news. An earthquake which only rattles the teacups isn’t. With political news stories, other filters also operate. Most UK newspapers have a right-wing bias due to their ownership by right-wing multi-millionaires. Stories which benefit the Conservative party therefore get more attention than stories which don’t.
With television the filtering is more influenced by the power of images. A peaceful protest is a dull protest. What the camera wants are shots of windows being smashed and fights with riot police. Television and radio aren’t very good at explaining complicated situations. What they go for are sound/image bites, 30 second snapshots which are meant to sum everything up in a sentence or an image. Politicians and governments know this and put a huge amount of effort into making sure that their message, their spin on a news story, is the one viewers get to see and hear.
A final filter is geographical. London is the centre of political and financial power in the UK. In the hierarchy of news reporting, what happens outside of London is ‘regional’, but even most of London counts as a region. The real centres of power are the City of Westminster, where politics happens and the City of London where finance happens. Altogether they cover an area of less than ten square miles, but such is the concentration of power that a small fart there echoes like thunder across the rest of the UK.
What this means is that even when the sound of thunder shakes Scotland, in the twin cities it registers as nothing more than the revolting smell of ’nationalism’. But the real source of the smell is the odour of corruption and putrefaction emanating from the twin cities . The decay of the UK is the real story which is being filtered out by the mass media. The UK has its origin in the Union of 1707. For 300 years, Scotland and the Scots added their biological and technological distinctiveness to the British collective, helping England to become, however briefly, a world historical power.
A more reflective, more rational and enlightened, media might wonder why there has been this sudden upsurge in Scottish ‘nationalism’. Why did the Scots fail to follow the Irish and others by breaking free from an imperial UK last century? If Scotland is such an integral part of the UK, as British as Yorkshire, why are the acting like funny foreigners waving their flags and rocking the boat?
No such questions are being asked, even by ‘liberal’ newspapers like the (former Manchester) Guardian. Instead the reality filters let Better Together’s scare stories pass through while dumping most of the Yes narrative in the garbage pile. While this filtering of reality is deeply frustrating for the Yes campaign, it is also very revealing. But to learn what it reveals will have to wait for my next post.